How to love Love

In 1998/99 a 22 year old power forward taken with the 5th pick in the 1995 draft led a 25-win team to their 3rd 1-and-done.

In 2010/11 a 22 year old power forward taken with the 5th pick in the 2008 draft led a 17-win team to a comfy spot in the lottery.

The 98/99 team posted a -1 mark on its expected w/l record (26-24) in a strike shortened season with a SRS or -0.17 and an Ortg/Drtg differential of +0.4.

The 10/11 team posted a -7 mark on its expected w/l record (24-58) in a full season with a SRS of -5.97 and an Ortg/Drtg differential of -6.9.

The 90-s era 22 year old power foward posted a WS/48 of .146, a PER of 22.4, oreb% of 9.7, tov% of 12, usg% of 27.8, and 4.2 fta/36 minutes.

The 00-s era 22 year old power forward posted a WS/48 of .210, a PER of 24.3, oreb% of 13.7, tov% of 11.1, usg of 22.9, and 6.9 fta/36 minutes.

The 90s-era 22 year old power forward would be league MVP in the WCF within 5 years. The 00s-era 22 year old power forward is on the road to...

(Thoughts on how to build around the 00s-era 22 year old power forward below the fold.)

The first thing we need to do with comparing the 22 year old versions of Kevin Garnett and Kevin Love is to look at who they played with.

The 25-win 98/99 strike-shortened Wolves had some decent players. They had a grand total of 7 players above or within 5% of a .100 ws/48 and 500+ minutes played: Terrell Brandon, KG, Dean Garrett, Joe Smith, Dennis Scott, Smitch, and Stephon Marbury. Granted, the team had to deal with a shortened season and the whole Starbury mess, but this was a team filled with capable players. Lower down the totem pole, Malik Sealy and Bobby Jackson played a combined total of 1672 minutes.

All in all, Kevin Garnett was surrounded by 5721 minutes of average to above average production spread out over 50 games. That's 2.38 players worth of solid production per game, on average.

The 2010/11 Wolves were a masterpiece of ineptitude. Not only were they an underperforming bunch, but they were an underperforming collection of misfits that produced at historically low (comical?) levels.

Last year's Wolves had a grand total of 2 players above or within 5% of a .100 ws/48 and 500+ mpg: Kevin Love and Anthony Tolliver.

All in all, Kevin Love was surrounded by 1362 minutes of average to above average production spread out over 82 games. That's .346 players worth of solid production per game, on average.

Just for kicks and giggles, let's throw in Luke Ridnour. He posted a .089 ws/48 and a 15 PER. With Luke in the mix, Kevin Love was surrounded by 3521 minutes of average to above average production spread out over 82 games. That's .894 players worth of solid production per game, on average.

Last year, Kevin Love was an isthmus on a peninsula on an island in an island continent on a planet far, far away. He was a one-man army. He had no one approaching the quality of the original Stop-n-Pop, Joe Smith, Starbury, Smitch or Dean Garrett. He was coached by a buffoon. Yet, he went absolutely nuts and showed himself to be a player well worth building a team around.

How did the KG-era Wolves become a 58 win contender? Is this story instructive for our current crop of puppies? While all the rage around the league has been about the "OKC model", hasn't the real model for success been staring us in the face since 03/04? Is there such a thing as a "model" in the first place?

Let's first look at how the 22 win 98 Wolves morphed into the 58 win WCF squad that was within a Sam Cassell injury of winning it all. Let's break things down between the trade/free agent road and the draft road:

TRADES/FREE AGENCY

98 off season:

  • Released Cherokee Parks, Terry Porter, and Tom Gugliotta
  • Released DeJuan Wheat
Pre-strike, 99:
  • Traded Zeljko Rebraca, Michael Williams, and 2000 1st round pick (Morris Peterson) to the Raptors; the Denver Nuggets traded Dean Garret and Bobby Jackson to the Wolves; the Nuggets traded a 99 1st round pick to the Raptors; and the Raptors traded Chauncey Billups and Tyson Wheeler to the Denver Nuggets.
  • Signed Mikki Moore as a free agent
  • Signed Troy Hudson as a FA
  • Signed Malik Sealy as a FA
  • Signed Joe Smith as a FA
  • Waived Mikki Moore
  • Waived T-Hud
99/00 in season:
  • Wolves traded Chris Carr, Bill Curley and Starbury to the Nets; Wolves traded Paul Grant to the Bucks; Bucks traded SnP to Wolves; Bucks traded Eliot Perry to the Nets; Nets traded Sam Cassell and Chris Gatling to the Bucks; Nets traded Brian Evans and 99 1st rounder (Wally) to the Wolves.
  • Signed Dennis Scott to a 10-day contract
  • Signed Bill Curley for the remainder of the season
  • Waived Brian Evans
  • Signed James Robinson to 2 10-day contracts
  • Signed Dennis Scott for the remainder of the season.
99 off season
  • Released Dennis Scott, Reggie Jordan, and Bill Curley
99/00 in-season
  • Signed Todd Day as a FA
00 off-season
  • Signed Chauncey Billups as a FA
  • Signed Reggie Slater as a FA
  • Signed LaPhonso Ellis as a FA
  • Signed Sam Jacobson as a FA
  • Signed John Coker as a FA (waived 4 days later)
00/01 in season
  • Waived Todd Day
  • Signed Felipe Lopez as a FA
01 off season
  • Signed Mo Evans as a FA
  • Signed Joe Smith as a FA
  • Signed Gary Trent as a FA
  • Waived Bill Curley
01/02 in season
  • Traded Dean Garrett and a 07 2nd rounder to the Warriors for Marc Jackson
  • Signed Robert Pack to a 10 day contract, and then for the rest of the season
02 off season
  • SMitch retired
  • T-Hud signed as a FA
  • Kendall Gill signed as a FA
  • Randy Livingston signed as a FA
  • Reggie Slater signed as a FA
  • Waived Mo Evans
  • Signed Rod Strickland as a FA
  • Waived Randy Livingston
In season, 02/03
  • Waived Reggie Slater
  • Signed Mike Wilks
03 off season
  • Waived Igor Rakocevic
  • Traded Anthony Peeler and Joe Smith to the Bucks for Sam Cassell and Ervin Johnson
  • Signed michael Olowokandi as a free agent
  • Wolves traded Marc Jackson to the Sixers; Wolves traded Terrell Brandon tot he Hawks; Hawks traded Glenn Robinson and a 06 2nd round pick (Boobie Gibson) to the Sixers; Knicks traded Latrell Sprewell to the Wolves; Sixers traded Randy Holcomb and a 07 1st round draft pick to the Hawks; Sixers traded Keith Van Horn to the Knicks
  • Signed Fred Hoiberg as a FA
  • Signed Mark Madsen as a FA
  • Signed Quincy Lewis as a FA
  • Signed Keith McLeod as a FA
  • Waived Keith McLeod
  • Signed Keith McLeod as a FA
  • Signed Trenton Hassell as a FA
In season 03/04
  • Signed Oliver Miller as a FA
  • Waived Quincy Lewis
  • Signed Anthony Goldwire to a 10-day contract
  • Waived Keith McLeod
  • Released Anthony Goldwire
  • Signed Darrick Martin to 2 10-day contracts, and then the rest of the season
DRAFT:

June, 99
  • Drafted Wally Szcerbiak with the 6th pick
  • Drafted William Avery with the 14th pick
  • Drafted Luis Bullock with the 42nd pick
  • Sold Bullock to the Magic for cash

June, 00

  • Drafted Igor Rakocevic with the 51st pick
June, 01
  • Drafted Loren Woods with the 46th pick
June,02
  • Drafted Marcus Taylor with the 52nd pick
June, 03
  • Drafted Ndudi Ebi with the 26th pick
  • Drafted Rick Rickert with the 55th pick
June, 04
  • Drafted Blake Stepp with the 58th pick
All in all, the 03/04 non-KG roster can be broken down as follows:
  • Sam Cassell, trade
  • Spree, trade
  • The Mayor, FA
  • Trenton Hassell, FA
  • Gary Trent, FA
  • Wally, draft
  • Kandi, FA
  • Madsen, FA
  • T-Hud, FA
  • Ervin Johnson, trade
  • Oliver Miller, FA
  • McLeod, FA
  • Martin, FA
  • Lewis, FA
  • Goldwire, FA
  • Ndudi Ebi, draft
During the regular season in the WCF year, KG was surrounded by a grand total of 622 drafted minutes of Wally and 32 minutes of Doodie-Ebie. The other 16k+ minutes were manned by free agents and traded players.

KG was surrounded by 9006 minutes of .100+ ws/48 action during the 03/04 regular season. That works out to 2.288 players worth of production per game. The 22 year old KG posted a ws/48 of .146. In his MVP year he posted a mind-boggling .272 with a 29.4 PER. He got real good. He was surrounded with just over 2 players worth of average-to-above-average production per game. The Wolves won a lot of games. This isn't rocket science. If you have a superstar on your roster, he needs to play alongside 2 or more other average-to-above-average performers. The more you have, the better.

For all the talk of how the Wolves have been cursed over the years, they have been gifted a franchise player within a single season of losing one. This is a rare thing. This is like the Colts getting the top pick after losing Peyton Manning to injury. This is like the Spurs getting Tim Duncan in the twilight of David Robinson's career.

The Wolves had a single season of Al Jefferson before Kevin Love landed in their laps, via a trade. Chicago waited 10 years for Derrick Rose. Kevin Durant came to the OKC/Seattle franchise after they made the playoffs in only 2 of 7 seasons. The #1 pick that year landed the Portland Trailblazers a talented yet always-injured big man.

In other words, landing a talented franchise player via the draft is an absolute crap shoot. It is an exceedingly rare event. Tall, coordinated, athletic young men who can throw a little orange ball through a hoop at an elite level are really, really, really hard to find. Throw in a lottery and a draft and this quest becomes even harder to navigate.

Yet somehow, the Minnesota Timberwolves have managed to spend 5 of the last 9 years with a .200+ ws/48 player on their roster. They've had only 2 campaigns since 1999 without a .150+ player. They seem to be quite good at finding a single super performer in the draft. Their problem is, very clearly, surrounding this stud player with 2-2.5 players worth of averge-to-above-average production.

One of the big knocks on Kevin McHale was that he had a terrible eye for drafting talent. One of the things often cited in favor of David Kahn is that he has an eye for the small deal with a good contract. At the cliched end of the day, Kevin McHale is responsible for the drafting of 2 superstar level players while trading for a number of players who actually play at average-to-above-average levels. Prior to this season, David Kahn had Michael Beasley, Anthony Randolph, Martell Webster, Luke Ridnour, Darko Milicic, and Anthony Tolliver.

Maybe it is a simple matter of a beaten-down fan base who is constantly asked to rationalize things like Blueprints, cap space, and future draft picks, but the lowered expectations of the post-KG era has, I think, caused the majority of the remaining fan base to miss a very basic point about team building: 90% of all transactions don't really matter. "Decent" 3 year deals on middling players are nothing more than that. What really matters is acquiring really good players, who often have big contracts and need to be acquired via free agency and/or trades. Oftentimes, these players and deals come at a premium.

David Kahn has plowed through over 1/4 of the 1st round picks in franchise history without a single average starter to show for it. He sunk $20 mil into Pek/Darko/Ridnour/Webster. This $20 mil investment netted them 5826 minutes of action--most of it well below average. That is $20 mil for nearly 30% of the team's minutes.

Cap space, "good" contracts, future draft picks---they're all just rolls of the dice. If you can get your hands on a player like Love or KG, it should become that team's single duty to pay as much as needed to acquire 2 additional quality starting players. Amnestying a player to give someone like, say, Jamal Crawford a slightly-overpaid deal > paying players who can't produce smaller deals to sit on the bench and produce like crap when they do happen to get into the action. Better yet, trading a rookie or 2nd year player who still might be overvalued for an established player like, for example, Kevin Martin, is better than continuing to plow money into rookie-scale deals for players who are in no danger of delivering the type of production that is needed next to KG Part II.

David Kahn has burned through a stunning number of assets. Just take a moment to think about how Luke Ridnour came to our great state. In August and September of 2009, David Kahn signed Ryan Hollins and Ramon Sessions to free agent deals. (He also signed the player who may have had the worst season in team history: Sasha Pavlovic, but that's another story.) Ramon Sessions was jerked around by the Zen Apprentice and his Broken Biangle and less than a year after he arrived, he and Hollins were traded for Sebastian Telfair and Delonte West about a week after Kahn signed Luke Ridnour. Kahn then proceeded to waive West while keeping Bassy.

Think about that year of action for a moment. Kahn signed a good point guard. He then traded that good point guard for 2 other point guards, waived the better of the 2, and then signed a player who probably wasn't as good as the one he traded for the 2 other point guards to make room for the likely-lesser point guard. (catches breath)

What. The. F$*k?!

Pick any position on the Wolves and you can run this type of experiment. Kevin Love and Al Jefferson couldn't work together because they played the same position and couldn't defend anyone. Flash forward to Kevin Love and Derrick Williams.

Centers? Ryan Hollins and Stewie have become Anthony Tolliver and Anthony Randolph. Tolliver is nice, but not that nice. Darko and Pek are still Darko and Pek.

The wheels still spin in the mud. The team is still overrun with power forwards (it could have been argued during the offseason that its 5 best players were all power forwards) while having absolutely nothing on the wing. Nothing. One would think that this absence of production would cause a few heads to be scratched and a few voices to start clamoring for some money to be spent on this glaring weakness. It hasn't happened.

We have a fairly solid handle on the average production/expected performance of each draft position. Long story short: It's a crap shoot, especially outside of the top 5 picks. Even shorter: Either Kevin Love's 2-2.5 running mates worth of average-to-above-average production are already on the team or the team needs to start dealing for these players post haste.

Unlike the excessively stupid Windows of Opportunity ticket sales pitch that was trotted out over the last two years, there is now an actual clock ticking on the Wolves and their hope for a better future. The clock is timed according to how long players like Wes Johnson, Derrick Williams, and Ricky Rubio can play while still being overvalued by another team long enough to be swapped for players who can produce in the here and now. Wes has probably already shown enough to remove any hope of a competent GM overvaluing his services for anything more than the Rashad McCants Memorial Toaster. Rubio and Williams can probably still draw a significant return.

To be fair, a bluff can be called. The Wolves can hope that Kevin Love will maintain his Bird rights, sign an extension, and not push for a trade while waiting out a few more terrible years until, hopefully, D-Thrill and Rubio develop into the running mates we all hope they can be. Are the hometown benefits in the new CBA enough to make this call? Is a 3% escalator enough to overcome differences in state income taxes? Will Love risk a year without an extension to test the market and push hard for a sign-and-trade? Who knows?

What we do know is that the Wolves have been gifted a player who is putting up KG-level production. He and his game look nothing like KG or his game, but the net individual production is in the same ballpark (Love is actually a bit ahead at this stage of his career). Love is doing it on is own. KG had help--help that eventually was upgraded (along with Garnet's game) all the way to a WCF.

What should the Wolves do to upgrade Love's help to a level commensurate with his production? This isn't a 2-game panic. This is an assessment of what they do to move forward. Do they show some patience with Williams and Rubio? Do they wait for the off season to try and make a trade? Do they try and make a move right now?

Kevin Love is the centerpiece. He's a KG-level centerpiece. He needs help. Rubio probably can give a chunk of it. Guys like Barea and Tolliver can throw competent backup minutes his way. Everything else is a question mark. Does any other GM with a solid asset overvalue one of these question marks enough to pull the trigger on a deal? Will one of the question marks step up in the very near future?

The chances of this thing getting turned around in the draft are out the window. The chances of landing a top notch free agent in the era of Super Friends are slim. Do they overpay for average-to-slightly-above-average starters in free agency? Do they try and make a deal?

I'm getting tired of waiting. The "strategy" of the past 2-3 years seems to have been taken out of Thomas Friedman's Iraq scribblebook: Stuff was blown up just because someone wanted to blow stuff up. There was no rhyme or reason. Stuff was blown up, resources were accumulated, and...

One of the downfalls of the Portland era of Pritch Slapping was their weird tendency to overvalue their own assets. This has been in stark contrast to what has happened in OKC. Sam Presti makes a living off of making value-based judgments and then quickly acting on them. Right now, Our Beloved Puppies are sitting on the blood and treasure of 3-5 years worth of shitty basketball. Who here doesn't know what they have in Darko, Beasley, Johnson, Randolph, Love, Barea, and even Rubio? Who here thinks that "player development" is going to give this group a boost? Who here thinks that Team Adelman can turn water into wine?

This team underperformed last year primarily because of poor coaching. Team Adelman should make up for the -7 on the expected w/l% but it is still saddled with a roster filled to the brim with not-very-good professional basketball players. It is still saddled with a roster completely void of a decent option at the 2/3. Going back to the Iraq bag of goodies, the Minnesota Timberwolves don't exactly have a lot of unknown unknowns. They are who we thought they were and either they can find someone to overvalue their talent for something good in return, or...well, where is that singular move and how quickly can it occur? I'm tired of waiting for this franchise to surround its superstar players with competent running mates via the draft.

What say you?

UPDATE/EDIT: In the Holy S%*t I'm an Idiot without an Editor Department (also filed away in the I Pay Too Much Damn Attention to Visual Symmetry asile), this:

In 1998/99 a 22 year old power forward taken with the 5th pick in the 1995 draft led a 22-win team to a comfy spot in the lottery.

Has been changed to the following accurate statement:

In 1998/99 a 22 year old power forward taken with the 5th pick in the 1995 draft led a 25-win team to their 3rd 1-and-done.

Expected w/l numbers for 98/99 have been updated to -1 instead of -4.

I regret nothing.

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